Our work is grounded in sound science. We are making science and information accessible to our community to encourage better decision-making and to inspire communities around the Bay to protect our coastal waters.
Jane Kittredge, a longtime resident of Casco Bay, informed us that she could tell that we were being successful in cleaning up Casco Bay. She said she used the “toes test.”
When she was a young girl, Jane could wade into Casco Bay and see her toes. Then she married a local boy; they moved away and raised a family. Like many Mainers, Jane and Bob returned home after they retired.
They built a house along the coast in Falmouth. It was then that Jane realized she could no longer see her toes when she ventured into the water. A few years after joining the Board of Friends of Casco Bay, Jane happily reported that she could finally see her toes wriggling underwater again! She attributed that to the efforts of Friends of Casco Bay; we attribute it to all our Friends because “Casco Bay belongs to all of us!”
But how can we really know if the water is any cleaner? We have been collecting data on the water quality of Casco Bay since 1992. For over 25 years, we have maintained and added to one of the largest and most important long-term data sets on marine water quality in New England. We do not collect data merely for the sake of collecting data. Our monitoring efforts are used to inform our advocacy and our education efforts.
Climate change is affecting the health of Casco Bay faster than anyone could have predicted. Warming temperatures and increasing acidity threaten the ocean and the livelihoods of those who depend on the sea. Research is showing that changes in our coastal waters from climate change are putting lobstering, clamming, and aquaculture at risk.
Friends of Casco Bay invites you to attend Ocean Acidification, Climate Change, and You, a free event, open to all.
Staff scientist Mike Doan will talk about the warning signs we see in our monitoring data. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca will share some of the impacts to our marine species and how Mainers are working together to respond to these threats. They look forward to your questions following the presentation.
Healthy marine waters are vital to Maine’s economy and quality of life.This is such an important issue that we are hosting this presentation at three locations in the coming weeks: Portland, South Portland, and Brunswick.
On July 20, 2016, our Continuous Monitoring Station began recording data hourly, 365 days a year. We are excited to share the first two and half years of data, collected at our water quality monitoring site in Yarmouth, near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay. We will update these graphs monthly, so come back often and see for yourself how Casco Bay is changing.
Casco Bay belongs to all of us. In 2019, we at Friends of Casco Bay are continuing our commitment to building a sense of shared ownership throughout our community, to help protect the health of this incredible resource. We see water as fundamental habitat and work to ensure that public policies keep the importance of the health of the Bay in mind.
We pursue policies, laws, and limits based on sound science. Our advocacy efforts take place in many forums—from town halls to the halls of the State House to Washington, D.C. Sometimes, we protect the health of the Bay using education, convincing one homeowner or business at a time to change their practices. Other times, especially on regional or more complex problems, we advocate for the enforcement of existing laws and for the creation of new laws or ordinances. We look forward to working with you this year.
Friends of Casco Bay’s newest workhorse—our Continuous Monitoring Station (CMS)—has been amassing hourly data on the health of the Bay for over two years now.
Research Associate Mike Doan is excited to be able to look at the daily, weekly, and seasonal changes in the Bay in far more detail than ever before. Mike was able to make comparisons between the first two years of data, comparisons we will continue tracking year to year. For example, the graph above shows nuances we could not have documented before:
A. The period of late summer-early fall of 2016 was warmer than the same time period in 2017.
B. The winter of 2017-18 turned colder earlier, with water temperatures dropping below 0°C before the end of December. In the previous winter, water temperatures did not drop below 0°C until late January.
C. Overall, spring and summer of 2018 were warmer than the same periods the year before.
On July 20, 2018, we marked the second anniversary of when our Continuous Monitoring Station began recording data off Yarmouth near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay. The data are providing insights into how climate change and ocean acidification may be affecting the health of our waters.
The Station consists of a modified lobster trap that houses a data sonde and a carbon dioxide sensor, instruments that collect data on many different aspects of water conditions.
Mike is the architect of our Cage of Science. “It’s been a lot of work to get to this point,” admits Mike, “and it is exciting to see the quality and quantity of data we are collecting.” Colleagues have taken notice of how he has been able to outfit an electronic station with accurate, high-tech monitoring equipment at reasonable cost. Several scientists already are using the continuous data.
We look forward to building the long-term data set that will provide a more complete picture of a changing Casco Bay, information that can help our communities assess, mitigate, and adapt to those changes.
Why is water temperature important?
Temperature influences how much oxygen and carbon dioxide the water can hold, the rate of plant growth and decay, and the movement of currents. Temperatures also impact the geographic distribution of marine life. Menhaden (pogies), typically found in the mid-Atlantic, have been showing up in large numbers in Casco Bay. Lobstermen say that lobsters are remaining farther offshore, with fewer showing up in warmer water areas around inshore eelgrass beds. We are seeing species of phytoplankton that were never before documented in Casco Bay.
Thanks to support from Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and generous donors, our Continuous Monitoring Station collects data once an hour, every hour, year round.
You may know that Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Station—AKA our “Cage of Science”—gives us vital data about the health of the Bay. But did you also know that observations of what sea life is growing on and hanging out in the station also give us important information about conditions of our waters? In this video, Research Associate Mike Doan shows us some of the sea critters that visited the Cage of Science in August.
As you may know, Friends of Casco Bay has joined a worldwide effort to better understand how our waters may be changing—by observing water color.
Since we launched our Color by Numbers pilot project three months ago, 178 of you have signed up to measure the color of Casco Bay. The map of Casco Bay above shows where you have taken 387 color measurements on your smartphones and tablets.
For more than a century, marine scientists have used the Forel-Ule color scale—an index of 21 colors—from blue to greenish blue to yellow to brown—to measure color as a revealing indicator of the health of our oceans, and to document the color of oceans and lakes.
Scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay Harbor have observed that the water color of the Gulf of Maine has become yellower over the last century. They are concerned that this color shift may be caused by suspended particles, which can block sunlight that marine plants need to grow, and which may transport pollutants from the land.
Every hour and every day, the Continuous Monitoring Station—a.k.a our “Cage of Science”—is building a more complete picture of the seasons beneath the Bay. Thanks to support from Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and generous donors, the Station collects measurements of temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, and chlorophyll fluorescence year-round. Every other week, Research Associate Mike Doan cleans and calibrates the equipment, and downloads and graphs the data to track conditions in the Bay.
The good news is that fewer discarded plastic bags have been showing up in our coastal cleanups lately; however, plastic litter we cannot see continues to worry us.
As the group that protects the health of our coastal waters, Friends of Casco Bay felt it was our duty to see if microplastics—defined as plastic fragments smaller than 5 millimeters (smaller than 1/16 of an inch)—are present in Casco Bay.
Unfortunately, we found microplastics in every region of the Bay we sampled.
Last summer, over the course of two days, we collected jars of seawater in Portland Harbor, between Chebeague and Cousins Islands, in Merepoint Bay, and ten miles offshore near Halfway Rock. We found 20 microplastic pieces in total; half of the pieces were from Portland Harbor. Of the 20 pieces of microplastics, 19 were less than 1.5 mm long. 14 of 20 pieces were microfibers. Microplastic films and fragments were present as well. No microbeads and no nurdles were found. (If you don’t know what these are, read more about plastics here.)
The highest number of microplastics were in the samples taken closest to shore, in Portland Harbor (10). We found fewer microplastics around Cousins Island (4), Merepoint Bay (3), and Halfway Rock (3). The fact that we found them at every place we sampled was concerning.
“I think the important message is that we found microplastics in every region of the Bay, just by grabbing a couple of liters of water,” Friends of Casco Bay Research Associate Mike Doan observes. “We found microplastics close to shore and we found them ten miles from the mainland.”
Plastic debris that enters the ocean can break into fragments that are nearly invisible to the naked eye. Mussels and oysters may ingest microplastics instead of plankton. Pollutants, such as DDT and PCBs, may adhere to these tiny particles, making them more toxic to marine life. Accumulations of plastic have been shown to move up the food chain to humans.
We will use our microplastics sampling data as we advocate for policies to reduce plastics pollution in our coastal waters. We plan to repeat the sampling in 2019 and compare it to our 2017 findings, as well as to those of other researchers in other areas of the country.
It may be hard to believe if you have spent any time outside this chilly winter, but spring likely has sprung in the waters of Casco Bay.
By January, the lengthening daylight has jumpstarted the growth of phytoplankton, the single-celled plants that are the foundation of the ocean food web. Like plants on land, they respond to increasing sunlight by bursting into bloom. By mid-February, daylight has increased by over an hour since December 21st, and the phytoplankton are flourishing.
Last January, 2017, there was an early bloom of phytoplankton in Casco Bay. How do we know? Friends of Casco Bay maintains an underwater sentinel that collects information about the water of the Bay every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is our Continuous Monitoring Station.
We will soon be crunching the January-February 2018 data, looking for confirmation of this year’s phytoplankton bloom.
A modified lobster trap houses a carbon dioxide sensor and a data sonde, electronic devices that continually take the pulse of the Bay. Together, they provide evidence of how our coastal waters may be changing over time. This long-term monitoring station, fondly known as “the Cage of Science,” is anchored just above the sea floor off Cousins Island in Yarmouth.
We now have over a year of hourly data on oxygen levels, carbon dioxide, pH (the level of acidity of the water), salinity, temperature, water clarity, water depth, and chlorophyll fluorescence, a measure that provides an estimate of phytoplankton abundance. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that traps the energy of the sun for photosynthesis.
Phytoplankton provide food for the smallest zooplankton. These tiny floating animals are eaten by larger zooplankton, such as copepods, shrimplike creatures. Both phytoplankton and zooplankton are at the mercy of the currents, winds, and tides.
The data from the Continuous Monitoring Station documents the changes in the water’s chemistry as a result of these blooms. The net positive effect in Casco Bay over the course of the spring season is more oxygen and less acidic water, thanks to those early-blooming phytoplankton.
Beyond Casco Bay, in the Gulf of Maine, a circular current called a gyre distributes marine life around the Gulf. The gyre transports phytoplankton to where zooplankton are hatching, just in time to feed emerging copepods, which in turn feed baby fish, clams, and other sea creatures.
Success in the ocean food web, like in much of life, depends on being in the right place at the right time.
Our Continuous Monitoring Station has been in place for about a year and a half, too soon perhaps to provide data that might indicate whether or not Casco Bay’s food web is changing. Still, every hour and every day, our cage of science is building a more complete picture of the seasons beneath the Bay, giving us insight into how climate change may alter the food web of our coastal water in years to come.
Thank you to funders of this project, including Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Davis Conservation Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Schwartz Family Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and WEX. We also thank our Members and the many donors, local businesses, and foundations that give us operational support to do our work each year.
Casco Bay, like ocean waters around the world, is changing and changing quickly. We are evolving our water quality monitoring to stay on top of the science of how the Bay may be changing.
At our Volunteer Appreciation Celebration this week [click here for photos!], we announced that we are launching two pilot projects that will enable our volunteer citizen scientists to use new technologies to increase our knowledge of the changing conditions around Casco Bay.
We rely on people all around the Bay to relay to us changes they are observing. Our new initiatives are designed to engage more volunteer citizen scientists in collecting data and sharing their observations of a changing Casco Bay.
Initiative #1: Measuring the Color and Clarity of Casco Bay
We are launching a pilot program to enlist citizen scientists to help us measure the color and clarity of our waters.
For more than a century, marine scientists have used the Forel-Ule color scale to document the color of oceans and lakes. People often consider blue water to indicate healthy oceans and dirty-brown water to indicate polluted water. In fact, scientists attest to color being an excellent indicator of what is happening in our oceans.
We are putting a modern spin on an old way of assessing water quality. We will train volunteers to use a specific smartphone app, as well as a Secchi disk. On tide-specific days and times, we will ask volunteers all around the Bay to use the app to take a photo of the water against the Secchi disk. Each volunteer will then compare the color of the water to an electronic version of the Forel-Ule scale built into the app. The protocols for this data collection are easy to follow, and the data helps address a question we often hear: “How is the Bay changing?”
We are launching this initiative because our colleagues at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences tell us that the waters of the Gulf of Maine have become increasingly yellow over the last century. We have seen heavy rains stain the surface waters of Casco Bay the color of tea. There is a lot of data on color and clarity for the Gulf of Maine, but not much has been collected in our nearshore areas.
Initiative #2: ON Casco Bay: Observing Network for Casco Bay
In 2016 and 2017, we saw a concerning increase in the number and extent of nuisance and harmful algal blooms in Casco Bay. Large mats of algae covered tidal flats, smothering animals underneath the mats, preventing juvenile clams from settling, and increasing the acidity of the sediment.
This year, we want to be on the lookout for green slime outbreaks, and Casco Bay needs more eyes looking out for its health! Friends of Casco Bay staff cannot be everywhere.
Photograph by Kevin Morris
We will enlist volunteers to help us observe and keep track of nuisance outbreaks. To do that, volunteers simply need a smartphone and a commitment to keep their eyes focused on our changing Bay.
We will train volunteers to use an innovative smartphone app that will enable them to document, catalogue, organize, and share their observations of the Bay. This information will be useful in our collaborations with other scientists, in expanding our community engagement by sharing observations on social media, and in our advocacy, to illustrate to regulators, legislators, and other policy makers changes happening around the Bay .
As this initiative evolves, we may ask volunteers to report any exciting, interesting or odd observations — from whales, osprey nests, or seals, to declines in eelgrass or mussel beds, clam die offs, jellyfish sightings, fish kills, invasive species outbreaks — you get the idea.
Be on the lookout for announcements regarding our training sessions on these pilot projects. We know that our longtime water quality monitors are eager to embark on a new adventure with us. We expect many new volunteers, who did not have the time to commit to our earlier water quality monitoring program, will jump aboard on one or both of these new efforts.
More eyes on the water and more advocates for its health are exactly what Casco Bay needs! In our experience, our volunteers are some of the most outspoken and well-spoken members of our community. We look forward to engaging more of you than ever. The commitment of volunteers will send ripple effects throughout towns around the Bay.